Understanding Snowboard Outerwear
Explore some of the down and dirty details built into your snowboard outerwear to keep you warm and dry on the mountain.
Snowboard outerwear can make or break your day on the mountain. Staying warm and dry makes all the difference. Choosing the right gear for the current weather conditions can help make any day on the mountain more enjoyable. There are several key drivers that go into choosing the right snowboard pants and jacket. In this guide, we will go over some of the major things to look for when picking out the perfect snowboard outerwear for your riding conditions.
The waterproof rating system is a fairly simple scale to understand. The first thing to remember is that when we refer to waterproof, we really mean a measurement of water resistance. You’ll often see the waterproof rating scale represented on a jacket or pant in a mix of different formats that all mean the same thing (Ex. 10,000 or 10K or 10,000mm).
Outerwear manufacturers test waterproof levels in different ways but the general standard is the static-column test. In this test a tube is filled with water and placed vertically over the fabric. The measurement is the height of the water when leakage begins. This is simply seeing how much water can build up on the clothing before it breaks through the waterproof coating.
So what waterproof level do you need? Here is a breakdown of what these ratings will usually hold up against:
- 1K: You will see this rating mostly in rain jackets. It will resist rain but is not completely rainproof.
- 5K: Here you are getting into more functional outerwear. For snowboard this generally the starting point. 5k typically comes in a a much lower price point, but after sitting or having snow build up on your jacket for extended hours you will start to see some leakage.
- 10K-15K: This level will be able to handle a lot more sitting or pressure buildup prior to any leakage compared to the 5k. Anyone out in medium to heavy snow/wet conditions will notice a difference in dryness.
- 20K: A rating of 20K or higher is generally considered “waterproof”. You can sit in the snow all day without getting any leakage.
- 30k+ (proprietary): There are proprietary waterproof membranes that companies will license to use on their outerwear. This is usually membrane that is laminated to the fabric producing a waterproof ratings that often quoted as being 30K+.
- GORE-TEX: This is the most common proprietary waterproofing technology outerwear brands will license. The pores in a GORE-TEX membrane are 700 times bigger than a water vapor molecule to allow breathability. They are also 20,000 times smaller than a drop of water which means moisture can not penetrate the membrane. GORE-TEX is as waterproof as it gets when it comes to snowboard outerwear.
Waterproofing can sound confusing, but when you break it down it can be easy to narrow down your needs based on where you will be riding and how long you’ll be in wet conditions. As you continue through this guide you’ll find that other factors like the quality of seams and construction of the jacket work with the waterproof technology to keep you dry.
As you snowboard moisture can build up in your jacket from snow, rain, or fog. Moisture will also build from sweat your body is producing. It is important that your outwear allows this moisture to escape otherwise it can freeze and lower your body temperature, making you colder. A higher rating on the breathability scale, the better the jacket/pant is at letting moisture escape.
Breathability is measured in grams. This is most commonly tested by seeing how many grams of water vapor can pass through one square meter of the fabric in 24 hours. You will see most ratings in the range of 1,000g-20,000g.
Identifying your needs for breathability are not as clear cut as identifying the waterproofing rating that would work best for you. People who perspire a lot or hike backcountry all day will definitely want a higher breathability rating. That said, most snowboard outerwear breathability ratings will increase as your waterproof rating increases.
Keep in mind that many snowboard jackets and pants will also have vents built in to allow moisture to escape. This doesn’t play into the breathability rating but helps for breathability on a relatively dry day. The main downside is if it is raining or snowing water will get in. Having the right base layers under your outwear also contribute to managing moisture buildup.
When looking at snowboard outerwear you’ll find that snowboard jackets and pants will come with different levels of insulation. Here is an overview of the types of insulation you’ll find an the pros/cons of each.
Cost is generally more expensive
If feathers get wet they can lose their loft which reduces warmth
Can get too warm when riding hard
Heavier, not as packable
Very lightweight Versatile and can be used with/without layers in all weather conditions
Not inherently warm and requires the use layers on colder days
Down is going to be your warmest option for insulation. It is lightweight, compressible, and an all around great option. Down feathers work by trapping air and retaining warmth in that space.
When choosing a down insulated jacket you either want to use an insulator under a waterproof shell or get a down jacket that has a high waterproof rating. This will prevent the feathers from getting wet and losing their loft. One of the best combinations to go with is down feathers with GORE-TEX water proofing.
down fill power number
Not all down fills give the same warmth. The loft of the feather is what provides different levels of insulation. To rank this they use what as known as a fill power number. One ounce of down is put in a cylinder, compressed and then allowed to fully loft. The measurement of how many cubic inches it occupies provides the ranking. This will often range from 400-900 fill power. The higher the number, the more air it traps and the warmer you stay.
Many brands will use different synthetic fibers to create insulation for jackets and pants. You build up a lot of body heat while riding so something not as warm as down can be a good option. Synthetic insulation types will be added to jackets/pants in various amounts for different levels of quality and warmth. The typical scale ranges between 10g-400g of insulation with the higher amount generally being warmer depending on the quality. Sometimes you’ll even see different blends of insulation in the chest and arms to prevent overheating.
There are many different types of synthetic insulation. Here are two of the most popular:
- Primaloft: The next best thing to down feathers. It is made from proprietary ultra-fine fibers. These help form air pockets that trap in body heat and keep out the cold. These fibers are also designed to be water resistant so they maintain their insulating properties and stay dry. The fibers are engineered to mimic the softness of goose down feathers.
- 3M Thinsulate: Like Primaloft, Thinsulate by 3M is also made with unique microfibers. These are designed to trap air pockets while allowing moisture to escape. These fibers are also moisture resistant to help maintain warmth properties when wet.
Sometimes the best option in a snowboard jacket or pant is to go with no insulation at all. This type of jacket or pant is referred to as a shell. This will be the most versitile of all the jacket/pant types allowing you to use layering for warmth as needed. You can find yourself a nice 20k or GORE-TEX shell that would give you the ultimate in lightweight and waterprofness for spring riding but has enough tech to keep you warm in below zero temps when layering with a heavy base layer.
Let’s face it. Your jacket and pants need to handle anything you throw at them so durability is a key factor in the life of your outerwear kit. Most snowboard jackets are made with a 2 or 3 layer construction. In the case of 2L vs. 3L GORE-TEX, the main difference is the GORE-TEX membrane is bonded to both the liner and the shell for no movement between the layers making for less wear and tear overtime. A 3 layer option will often be more expensive but the light weight and durability is un-matched to a 2L.
Waterproofing and insulation are important but you need the seams of the jacket to prevent moisture and cold air from entering. Seam taping is simply taking a strip of waterproof material and attaching to the inside of the jacket where the fabric is sown together.
- Critically Taped Seams: This means that only the main seams of the jack or pant are taped. The company will deem certain seems to be more at risk to allow water in and simply tape those (typically shoulder and inner torso). This helps keep moisture out of the typical places moisture might enter while keeping the cost down.
- Fully Taped Seams: Just as it sounds. Every seem on the jacket is taped for protection from the elements.
- GORE-SEAM Tiny Tape: This is a special seam tape designed by GORE-TEX to help improve breathability and waterproofing while reducing weight and bulk.
- Welded Seams: If none of the above are good enough some companies have eliminated seams all together by welding the pieces of fabric together so no seams are present. These welded seams are generally backed by seam tape on the inside.
These can be a great asset when out on the mountain or even around town. The majority of jackets will have pit vents under the arm. Some jackets with also have them on the chest of the jacking. Using a zipper you can open these to release heat and moisture. This prevents the build of of moisture through sweat that eventually would lead to you getting cold.
Snow pants generally have vents on the inside of the leg. Leg vents follow the same concept of releasing heat and moisture. Some of the higher end jackets and pants will also have a mesh screen to help prevent snow from entering the vents.
Most technical snow jackets come with hoods. These can be great on super windy or snowy days. The majority of hoods are designed to fit over a helmet and have cinches to tighten it up if needed. Some jackets have hoods that are either removable or stashable.
These are what help keep the snow and wind from getting into your jacket. Even in mild conditions they can be very useful. Three kinds of gaiters are:
Waist: This is often referred to as a powder skirt but is also great even in packed snow. It is built into the jacket and wraps around your waist to button in the front. This creates a seal preventing snow or air from entering from the bottom of your jacket. Waist gaiters are also great at keeping snow out when you have a nasty spill. Some waist gaiters are removable for the times you are not on the mountain.
Boot: The majority of snowboard pants come with boot gaiters. These are built in to the bottom of the pants. Once your boots are on you pull these over the outside of your boot. They cinch around the boot creating a great seal to keep out the elements.
Pockets, pockets and more pockets. Jackets and pants will both come with a varying number of pockets depending on the model. A rider who sticks to the main trails or small mountains may need less. If you are going to be out there all day possible in the backcountry these pockets can come in handy. Assess your needs and consider bringing a pack with you if you really need extra storage without weighing you down.
Take this knowledge with you when it is time to upgrade or replace that old outerwear jacket and pants. Don’t forget that layers are equally important in staying warm and dry on the mountian so be sure to checkout our guide on understanding base layers to get into the right gear. Looking to get into some new gear now? View our current stock of snowboard jackets and snowboard pants.